A Look at Carbohydrate Recommendations…

A Look at Carbohydrate Recommendations…

A look at Carbohydrate Recommendations

While I know I run the risk of beating a point to death (ask my husband about my tendency to do so…), I wanted to just show some research that supports what I have said in my recent podcast (Carbohydrate Basics).

Carbohydrates are not the devil or our enemy; if consumed in appropriate amounts and from quality sources they are actually our friend and necessary for optimal performance. I will recommend listening to the podcast if you haven’t already for a review of the various functions carbohydrate play in our diets. The most important thing to remember is that consuming inadequate carbohydrates can be the limiting factor when it comes to performance. Our bodies can only oxidize (= use) energy from carbohydrates at very high intensity levels lasting more than a minute; it cannot use energy from fats or protein.  If you don’t have enough carbohydrate available (particularly in its storage form in the muscle, glycogen), then you are limited with your intensity level and/or how long you can perform.

If this helps, here are the carbohydrate recommendations from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Society for Sports Nutrition (and include recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine):


I will draw your attention to the blue circles – these best approximate many of the athletes within Icon. These recommendations suggest a carbohydrate consumtion no lower than 4 g/kg and up to 7 g/kg. In the 2 yellow circles we see the average intake for most CrossFitters (one study that looked at average consumption found an intake of ~3.5 g/kg). Looking at these recommendations, intakes as low as 3-5 g/kg would only be recommended for either athletes training 3 to 4 times a week, 30 to 60 minutes at a time, or low-intensity performing athletes or athletes just doing skill work. This rarely applies to our athletes.

I would not suggest that athletes don’t periodize their intake. To the contrary, if you know on that day you are just doing skill work, consuming on the lower end of the range might be appropriate. But rarely do I see application for intakes as low as 3 g/kg a day.

So how can you increase your intake if indeed you see that your numbers are low? First keep in mind food sources of carbohydrates:

  • Fruits
  • Starchy veggies – potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, winter squashes
  • Whole grains – focusing particularly on intact grains such a barley, quinoa, steel cut oats, farro, and also other whole wheat products (bread made with 100% whole wheat, whole wheat pasta, etc.)
  • Milk & yogurt
  • Legumes/beans

Other tips for increasing carbohydrate amounts include:

  • Increasing portion sizes. Increase ½ cooked quinoa to 1 whole cup of quinoa (= 40 grams). Have a medium sweet potato, not just ½ of a potato (another 40 grams).
  • Ensure at least 30-60 grams at each meal – see suggestion above to achieve this), but make sure it’s at all 3 meals a day, not just 1 meal a day
  • Have some carbohydrates with a snack – have fruit with a string cheese, or veggies with hummus, a banana with peanut butter
  • Think of the plate method at each meal – depending on your track and related recommended plate, at least ¼ and up to ½ of your plate should come from complex carbohydrates


I hope this helps. And as always, let me know what questions you have!






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.